Fall has arrived and now it’s time for us to plan for sustainable leaf management and successful drainage practices in our yards and neighborhoods. Penfield is unique in that there are neighborhoods with large mature trees (my neighborhood) and other areas of town (north and east Penfield) that don’t have a lot of mature tree foliage. All areas present opportunities for us as residents to help do our part to promote the environment, reduce the burden of filling landfills with leaves, and not raise taxes.
As many of you know, the Town is not in the leaf pick-up business. Many other towns also don't provide this function. The reasons for not doing this are consistent: increased tax burden to residents, a host of anticipated customer service issues, opportunities for residents to embrace more environmentally sustainable practices, and to support local Penfield businesses that provide leaf pick-up service.
If the Town started leaf pickup it would immediately become a divisive program, meaning there are some residents who want it and many who don’t. The fact remains there are significant costs associated with committing to this effort. New Town spending would need to be made for outfitting trucks, additional employees, and landfill tipping fees. There would also be no ability for municipal sharing as towns that have leaf pick-up are all using their equipment at the same time of year. Additionally, town crews would be taken off other infrastructure projects throughout the town in order to collect leaves.
Taxpayer Cost: The Town would need to invest many hundreds of thousands of dollars outfitting trucks for the service, added labor, and landfill tipping fees. When this was last studied in 2005, the financials didn’t make sense and they certainly would make even less sense in today’s dollars. Further, the burden of leaf removal would be shared by every taxpayer, including those who are opposed to funding a leaf service. By comparison today, residents who want leaf removal services can hire a Penfield-based private contractor or group together with neighbors for a cheaper price and convenience of picking the day for leaf removal. This would be less than it would cost every taxpayer if the Town provided the service.
Customer Service: Given the logistics of town-wide collection for more than 14,000 properties, crews could make only one pass through town within a finite and unpredictable number of days between last leaves falling, residents’ ability to rake, and first snowfall when trucks must be ready for plowing, not leaf removal. With these constraints, it’s not likely that crews would make it to each house exactly when each homeowner is prepared with leaves raked and ready at the curb. Those who miss their leaf pick-up day could even end up hiring a leaf service and paying twice—once in their tax bill and again when they pay their landscaper! As we know, all leaves don't fall at the same time.
For Town leaf collection to be successful, nature would have to give us an ideal number of days between last leaves and first snowfall, and every residence would need to be “raked and ready” the exact day crews made their pass through town—an unlikely alignment of weather and time.
Unpredictable rain, wind and snow is a recipe for frustrated residents, wet piles of leaves killing grass, blocked storm drains, leaves blowing back onto your yard or neighbor's yard with high winds, and the potential for neighborhood flooding. The possibility of snow covered leaves creeping onto sidewalks or roadways creates both a maintenance and safety hazard. We have all seen this driving through neighboring towns.
In contrast, a local private landscape service will collect leaves curbside—when scheduled—for a cost well below what the Town would need to charge every taxpayer. Many landscapers who live and do business in Penfield would welcome your patronage, and you would be supporting a local business during these difficult times.
Environmentally-Friendly/Sustainability: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recommends residents mulch and compost their leaves. Last fall, the DEC’s Solid Waste and Recycling newsletter published “Leaf Me Alone: Why You Should Keep Your Leaves in Your Yard.” The article points out that “many of us will use our time or money to rid our lawns of leaves. Keeping our leaves nearby is a simpler, more environmentally-friendly solution, as leaves contain nutrients that are good for the soil.” (Please see resources below to learn more). In contrast, if the Town collected leaves they likely would end up in a landfill, which undermines sustainable practices.
Considering all these factors, getting into the leaf collection business doesn’t make sense for the Town of Penfield and its taxpayers. Such a service would bring added costs to each and every taxpayer. This year especially, given the loss of revenue and unpredictable lasting financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, the timing is wrong to consider increasing Town spending.
When it comes to managing leaves, personal choice does make the best sense. We can all decide for ourselves if we will choose to go the sustainable route and mulch or compost our leaves at no expense or if we prefer to hire a local landscape service with a pick-up date of our choosing for a fee we are willing to pay.
Tips for Environmentally-Friendly Leaf Management:
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Tips:
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tips:
Please do your part: wear a mask, practice physical distancing, help stop the spread to save lives.
Be safe and be well!
Penfield Supervisor R. Anthony (Tony) LaFountain